30 Jan

Hunter Henry Q & A About Recruiting Process

Hunter Henry is committed to Arkansas, but still likes Alabama. Courtesy: Arkansas Life

Hunter Henry is committed to Arkansas, but still likes Alabama. Courtesy: Arkansas Life

Imagine you’re a teen. You’ve just come home from your first date ever, and sitting there waiting with plenty questions about your night is dear, old dad.
Mildly embarrassing, totally understandable. Naturally, you expect the scrutiny to wane over time.

Except that it doesn’t. After the next date, dear, old uncle waits beside dad. The time after that, you also find the guy from KATV is interested in where you ate dinner. And every time after that, it seems more media join the growing scrum.

Surreal, right?

A select group of high school football players actually aspire to something like this every February. For the best of the best, National Signing Day (Feb. 6) is a reward for years of summer camps, college campus visits and a courtship that includes Facebooking, texting and talking to coaches from around the nation. It’s also a culmination of the intense media spotlight they’ve  been under for months –  the day when our favorite sport’s stars of tomorrow make their final college choice public by signing a letter of intent, leaving all other wooers at the doorstep.

Imagine if every high school senior stood in front of her classmates and local media to announce both where she would be going to college and who was taking her to prom.
Nerve-wracking scenario, right?

A select group of high school football players strive to go through a similar rigamarole every February. For the best of the best, National Signing Day (Feb. 6) is a culmination of years of summer camps, college campus visits and a courtship that includes Facebooking, texting and talking to coaches from around the nation. It’s the day when our favorite sport’s stars of tomorrow make their final college choice public by signing a letter of intent, leaving all other wooers at the doorstep.

In Arkansas, many eyes will be on Hunter Henry, senior at Little Rock’s Pulaski Academy. Will this elite tight end – ranked as the nation’s best at that position by some outlets – choose the Razorbacks, to which he made a non-binding oral commitment last summer?

This would make sense, considering his father played center for the Razorbacks (and is now an associate pastor at Fellowship Bible Church), and his grandfather was an Arkansas basketball player.

But Henry’s still open to other schools. He insists his recruiting process is far from over. Here’s a look into that process, and the ups and downs  it brings:

Q: You’ve been committed to Arkansas since last summer, but are still considering other schools like Alabama. Give me a sense of what you’ve been going through.

A: The recruiting process can be hard. It’s a blessing, but at the same time I don’t think people realize how hard it really is just because it’s so stressful and you’re trying to pick a place that is going to affect the rest of your life. You’re going to so many different schools and they’re all so amazing … you build relationships with so many people – just really good, strong relationships, talking all the time and it’s kind of hard to say ‘no’ to some people.

Q. You’ve spoken a few times to Arkansas’ head coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. What do you expect your role to be on offense once you start getting major minutes?

A: I really don’t know. I’m not there, so I got to get on campus. Nothing’s given to me. I’m going to have to work for everything I get and I know that. I’m working extremely hard right now, and I’m just going to continue to work hard… whereever it is that I go, I just want to be a great tight end and a great person.

Q: You grew up in Atlanta in a family that bleeds Razorback red. Once you started seriously considering which college to attend, was it difficult to put aside your Hog fandom to make a clear-headed choice about what’s best for you?

A: It was. I would lie to you if I said it didn’t. It was hard sometimes, but I did really good at clearing my mind. You know, it’s a whole lot easier once you get into the process and you go to other places and you talk to other coaches, when you get out there and see what else is out there. I think that helps a lot and it opened up things just because I want to choose the place where I should be and the right place for me.

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18 Sep

Why Bobby Petrino’s Departure is Ultimately Good News for the Razorbacks

For Arkansas to beat college football’s big boys, it needs a coach who can attract and sign high school football’s big boys. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

With 2:50 left in the first quarter, Arkansas trailed Alabama 7-0 on Saturday. On third down, freshman quarterback Brandon Allen threw a pass to Brandon Mitchell near mid field, but the ball bounced off Mitchell’s hands and appeared to be picked off by Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, who ran it back to the Arkansas three yard line.It wasn’t clear if Milliner had actually intercepted the pass. CBS replays showed the deflected ball wobbling and falling down, down close to the turf, before going up again, scooped up into Milliner’s arms.

The question: Did it hit ground first? At any point, did it bounce back?

Yes, it turned out.

The Razorbacks, though, could be falling for a while.

There were too many loose ends in Arkansas’ 52-0 loss in Fayetteville. Not even a healthy quarterback, cornerback and fullbacks would have tied them.

The game still had not slipped out of grasp in the early second quarter when, down 10-0, from Alabama 42 yard line Allen misread the Alabama defense and forced a deep pass over the middle to tight end Chris Gragg. Safety Vinnie Sunseri – with such a name, I’d expect him to play for Rutgers, the New Jersey school Arkansas plays next – intercepted the ball and returned it 13 yards. Allen, making his first start, could have made the far more simple throw to an open Knile Davis, who would have run it to near the first down marker.

It’s likely Tyler Wilson, Arkansas’ injured star quarterback, would have made the safe throw.

On a pass attempt on the next Arkansas drive, Allen stayed in the pocket a couple beats longer than he should have. He was sacked for an eight-yard loss, pushing the Hogs back to their own 20-yard line and killing the drive.It’s likely Wilson would have gotten rid of the ball quicker.

This isn’t a jeremiad on Arkansas’ unseasoned quarterbacks, who have done about as well as can be expected, all things considered. They had nothing to do with the spotty special teams play. They weren’t going to stop a 6-4, 320-pound Australian defensive lineman named Jesse Williams from putting the entire Hogs’ offensive line on the barbie. They weren’t the ones unable to get around the three preseason All-Americans on Alabama’s offensive line, or wrap up bruising tailback Eddie Lacy behind the lines.

Wilson would not have helped in these departments.

If Arkansas’ entire roster is healthy, it’s good enough to beat the Rutgers, Ole Misses and Auburns of the world – even if the coaching is much worse than it was last season, before Bobby Petrino’s attempted career immolation. Even with Petrino as coach, though, the gap between Arkansas and national front-runners Alabama and LSU was obvious.
15 Sep

No star quarterback, no problem? Arkansas-Alabama echoes Stanford-USC upset in 2007

Arkansas assistant coach Nick Holt has seen plenty go wrong with his team in the last couple weeks.

He’s seen the Hogs lose their top quarterback, best cornerback and best two fullbacks. Then watched a Sun Belt team take full advantage with an upset that many consider the worst loss in program history. And even within the confines of his Broyles Complex office, he’s surely heard something from the chorus of dire prognostications surrounding his squad as it heads into this afternoon’s showdown with No. 1 Alabama.

Nobody outside of Arkansas gives the Hogs much of a chance against the national champions.  If the Hogs couldn’t beat Nick Saban the last two years, when it had a non-stopgap head coach and healthy star quarterback, what chance has it now?

Slim, sure.

But before writing this team off, consider Nick Holt has seen something else.

It happened five years ago, when Holt was coordinating the defense of  powerhouse Southern Cal, a team which shared plenty with these Crimson Tide. USC was essentially the mid-2000s version of Alabama. Like the Crimson Tide, the Trojans had rolled through its first few games as favorites to win another national title.

Like today’s Crimson Tide, the ’07 Trojans had pumped out two national titles in the previous four years, had the game’s consensus best head coach (Pete Carroll) and had just replaced its offensive coordinator (Steve Sarkisian for Lane Kiffin). Like Alabama, USC had also signed enough consecutive top recruiting classes, giving the program more depth than a Darren Aronofsky flick.

It’s unlikely Nick Holt anticipated what would transpire on October 6, 2007, when the unranked Stanford Cardinal came to town. USC had waxed Stanford 42-0 the previous year, and for all the world looked as if it was going to demolish it once again. The Cardinal had lost its first three conference games while breaking in a new head coach and defensive coordinator. It stumbled into the USC game without its senior starting quarterback T.J. Ostrander, who’d been sidelined by a seizure.

What happened?

Kismet, magic, a whole lotta Luck before Andrew – call Stanford’s stunning 24-23 win whatever you want to call it. But in the end, the powerhouse Trojans simply had a really off day – they gave up five turnovers – and the Cardinal played well enough to take advantage. The Cardinal defense, for instance, held stout on a critical fourth-and-goal right before halftime. Although its offense was outgained by 224 yards, Stanford converted its only two fourth down attempts. The backup quarterback came on to complete 11 of 30 passes for 149 yards, but played smartly when it counted.

Sure, there are differences between these situations. Most notably, Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh was then a young up and comer making his first college coaching splash. Arkansas’ sixty-three-year-old John L. Smith has been around the block once or eight times.

But, like anything else in life that must be played out away from the Excel spreadsheets and algorithms which make up our modern life, football’s a fickle thing. Fickle enough that an unranked team can lose its top gun quarterback and still upend the nation’s juggernaut du jour.

Nick Holt has already seen this unfold firsthand.

Could he again?

14 Jan

National columnist discusses Tyler Wilson’s chances to win the 2012 Heisman Trophy

Now that he's sticking around, how high will Tyler Wilson rise as a Heisman contender?

College football columnist Bruce Feldman’s no stranger to rolling the dice. Last summer, the national writer left a 17-year career at ESPN for CBS amid the controversial aftermath of the release of a memoir from former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.

He relocated to Los Angeles, where he has a close view of the University of Southern California football team and its star quarterback Matt Barkley. On Thursday, Fayettville, Ark.-based radio show host Bo Mattingly asked who he felt were top contenders for next season’s Heisman Trophy. Feldman could have gone out on a limb by not putting Barkley at the top of his preseason favorites.

He didn’t.

Instead, he said Wilson will contend but said Barkley begins the season with a few advantages. “You’re gonna see Barkley come into next season probably as the favorite. He’s a high profile guy and plays for a high-profile [team] … they’ll probably start off preseason #1 or #2. He’s at a school with a history of producing stars and has, as I mentioned before, two fantastic receivers. He’s gonna put up big numbers.”

“In the case of Tyler Wilson, I think he’s up there with [Oklahoma quarterback] Landry Jones. I think you could put [quarterback] Geno Smith, who’s from West Virginia and gonna come back. He had a huge game against Clemson,” Feldman said on Sports Talk With Bo Mattingly. “They scored 70 points in the Orange Bowl. All his best receivers are back; they should be even better on the offensive line … You’re looking at a guy who’s gonna put up ridiculous numbers.”

Among other possible early-season contenders, Feldman mentioned Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.

Mattingly also asked if Arkansas has a strong chance of toppling LSU and Alabama at home next season: “I think so. I really do think so. Alabama, as terrific as they looked on Monday night,  is only returning four starters on both sides of the ball. A key for them is they do have a nucleus of an outstanding offensive line… you know Nick Saban is gonna have a strong defense.”

In the end, though, Feldman predicted the SEC will not win its seventh consecutive national title.

U.S.C. is his pre-pre-preseason favorite.


05 Dec

In ESPN analysis of Arkansas-Kansas State Cotton Bowl, question of Oklahoma State’s exclusion from title game arises

Below is a video of ESPN’s first analysis of the upcoming Cotton Bowl featuring Arkansas and Kansas. I found it to get really interesting around 1:40, when the game is discussed as a possible litmus test of the worthiness of No. 1 LSU’s opponent in the BCS National Championship game.

That is, which team was more worthy of being selected as that foe – Alabama or Oklahoma State? Alabama, of course, won out, and ESPN pointed to strength of schedule as one of the reasons. Although Oklahoma State had more win over Top 25 teams, Alabama was perceived on the whole to have beaten better teams.

ESPN deemed Arkansas as Alabama’s most impressive win of the season, while calling Kansas State as Oklahoma State’s most impressive win of the season.

So, it goes to reason, that if Arkansas beats Kansas State, the SEC’s strength is further justified and Alabama fans should feel even more justified. But an Arkansas loss would give Oklahoma State fans even more milk to spill in regards to their spurned national title hopes.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrbrLofSzT4&w=560&h=315]

27 Sep

Alabama versus Arkansas: A Statistical Breakdown of Recruiting

The venues, helmets and results stay the same.
All that changes, it seems, are the stitches on the back of their opponents’ jerseys.
By falling to Alabama 38-14, Arkansas lost its bid to join college football’s VIP club for the fifth time in three years. Forget Arkansas-LSU: that annual late-season showdown is always close, and the Hogs will win their fair share.
But the SEC money games which could catapult the Razorbacks into national title contention occur in the season’s first few weeks, and the Hogs have whiffed on Alabama the last three seasons, Florida in 2009 and Auburn in 2010.
Each time, there’s a recurring theme: Arkansas’ opponents unleash game changers with talent the Razorbacks simply can’t match.